A delicatessen or deli is a retail establishment that sells a selection of unusual or foreign prepared foods. Delicatessens originated in Germany during the 1700s and spread to the United States in the mid-1800s. European immigrants to the United States, especially Ashkenazi Jews, popularized the delicatessen in American culture beginning in the late 1800s.
Delicatessen is a German loanword which first appeared in English in 1889 and is the plural of Delikatesse. In German it was originally a French loanword, délicatesse, meaning "delicious things (to eat)". Its root word is the Latin adjective delicatus, meaning "giving pleasure, delightful, pleasing". The first Americanized short version of this word, deli, came into existence c. 1954.
The German food company Dallmayr is credited with being the first delicatessen created. In 1700, it became the first store to import bananas, mangoes, and plums to the German population from faraway places such as the Canary Islands and China. Over 300 years later, it remains the largest business of its kind in Europe.
The first delicatessens to appear in the United States were in New York City in the mid-1800s, with the first known use of this word occurring in 1885. These catered to the German immigrant population living there.
In the United States, by the late 20th to early 21st centuries, supermarkets, local economy stores, and fast food outlets began using the word (often abbreviated as "deli") to describe sections of their stores. The decline of the deli as an independent retail establishment was most noted in New York City: from a high in the 1930s of about 1,500 Jewish delicatessens, only 15 still existed in 2015.
By country and region
In most of Australia, the term "delicatessen" retains its European meaning. Large supermarket chains often have a deli department, and independent delicatessens exist throughout the country. Both types of deli offer a variety of cured meats, sausages, pickled vegetables, dips, breads and olives.
"Deli" also denotes a small convenience store or milk bar in Western and South Australia, and some businesses use "deli" as part of their business name. Traditional delicatessens also exist in these states, with "continental delicatessen" sometimes used to indicate the European version.
In Canada, both meanings of "delicatessen" are used. Immigrants from Europe often use the term in a manner consistent with its original German meaning but, as in the United States, delis can be either take-out or mixed take-out and sit-down restaurants.
In Europe "delicatessen" means high-quality, expensive foods and stores. In German-speaking countries a common synonym is Feinkost (fine food), and shops which sell it are called Feinkostläden (delicacy stores). Department stores often have a Delikatessenabteilung (delicacy department). European delicatessens include Fauchon in Paris, Dallmayr in Munich, Harrods and Fortnum & Mason in London, and Peck in Milan.
Although U.S.-style delicatessens are also found in Europe, they appeal to the luxury market. In Russia, shops and supermarket sections approximating US-style delis are called kulinariya and offer salads and main courses. Delicate meats and cheeses, cold-cut and sliced hot, are sold in a separate section and submarine sandwiches made to order are limited to fast-food franchises such as Subway. The Eliseevsky food store in central Moscow, with its fin de siècle decor, is similar to a European delicatessen. From the Tsarist era, it was preserved by the Soviets as an outlet for difficult-to-obtain Russian delicacies. Delicatessens may also provide foods from other countries and cultures which is not readily available in local food stores. In Italy, the deli can be called gastronomia, negozio di specialità gastronomiche, bottega alimentare and more recently salumeria. In France it is nowadays known as a traiteur or épicerie fine.
In the United States, a delicatessen (or deli) is often a combined grocery store and restaurant. Delis offer a broader, fresher menu than fast-food chains, rarely employing fryers (except for chicken) and routinely preparing sandwiches to order. They may also serve hot foods from a steam table, similar to a cafeteria. American delis sell cold cuts by weight and prepare party trays. Although delicatessens vary in size, they are typically smaller than grocery stores.
In addition to made-to-order sandwiches, many U.S. delicatessens offer made-to-order green salads. Equally common is a selection of prepared pasta, potato, chicken, tuna, shrimp or other salads, displayed under the counter and sold by weight. Precooked chicken (usually roasted or fried), shrimp, cheese or eggplant dishes (fried or parmigiana style) are also sold. Delis may be either strictly take-out, a sit-down restaurant or both.
Delicatessens offer a variety of beverages, such as pre-packaged soft drinks, coffee, tea and milk. Potato chips and similar products, newspapers and small items such as candy and mints are also usually available.
Menus vary according to regional ethnic diversity. Although urban delis rely on ethnic meats (such as pastrami, corned beef and salami), supermarket delis rely on meats similar to their packaged meats (primarily ham, turkey and American bologna).
Delicatessens have a number of cultural traditions. In the United States, many are Jewish, Italian, and Greek, both kosher and "kosher style". The American equivalent of a European delicatessen may be known as a gourmet food store. North American delicatessen distribution is primarily in older, walkable cities.
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